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Ebb and Floe

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May 2017

Floe Fashion Industries Headquarters, New York

“No.”

Victor had just listened to Yakov outline his travel plans for the new fashion season for over an hour. Dozens of cities, designers, photoshoots, and runways swam in his head and the one word he could think to say was ‘no’. His body screamed it, but Victor barely breathed the word out.

It would be the first time in his entire career he had felt the need to utter that exact word to the man who had been his boss, his mentor, and his surrogate father in all but law. For over twenty years Victor had smiled, and posed, and worn what he was told, and traveled where anyone asked him to. Now he was tired. There was an exhaustion that had sunk deep into his bones and grew heavier as he had imagined another year in countries, rooms, and clothes that were not his own. He longed to feel connected to something and decided then and there that he would only be able to do that if he stayed in one place for more than a week at a time. So although it tore something soft inside him to utter the word, he repeated it, more firmly, when Yakov asked him to speak up.

“No, Yakov. I’m quitting.”

The words reverberated off the floor to ceiling glass windows in the uppermost corner office of FLOE™ Fashion Industries. This building housed the main offices for the international fashion empire, employing hundreds of people who in turn helped support thousands of external models, photographers, designers, and editors. While Victor knew he was just one cog in the machine, just one more worker out of thousands, he could not help but feel that he was letting down the people working throughout the building below him. Victor had been one of the first and was certainly the most well known. How much would his selfish decision affect them?

There were a full ten seconds of silence before the ranting began, and in that moment Victor wanted to take the words back a thousand times. Fear of losing everything he was if he stopped modeling welled up in him, but he held it down. There had to be more to life - more to him. He wanted to discover what that was. It did not help that Yakov’s words preyed on those very fears.

“If you stop you will never be able to start again! There will be some new exotic face that strikes the designer’s fancies, and everyone will design for that face instead, and their styles will not match you anymore. They will turn their nose up at you, you have seen it happen to others. That Tareke girl is biting at your heels, waiting for her chance at a cover!”

“So give it to her, Yakov. I have made up my mind. I do not - I cannot do this another year. There is nothing left in it for me. I do not need the money or the people telling me I am pretty the way I needed it when I was thirteen. I just need quiet, and time with Makkachin. Did you know she is developing cataracts? They tell me she bumps into corners and people at the daycare more and more often. She needs me, Yakov. I cannot be there for her if I am home a handful of days in the year. I am surprised she still remembers me.”

Victor waited for a lecture about how it was foolish to allow a dog to mean more to you than your career, but it never came. Of course, it didn’t. Makkachin had been a gift from Yakov himself when Victor was seventeen. Back then Victor had little time for friends, and Yakov must have known that he needed the constant love a dog could give. He had just landed the cover of Teen Vogue and been paid more money than he knew could exist all at one time. The next year Yakov and Lilia had decided that it was a waste to sell his face out to other magazines and decided to create their own magazine that Victor would work for exclusively. There had been enough advertisers scrambling to get an image of Victor with their product that Floe was funded for a year within the first few months, and from there the three of them had built an empire. The magazine had been just the beginning. Now there was an award show, a runway of their own at fashion week’s all over the world, charities, design lessons for public schools, and a two-hour spot on HGTV for their version of Project Runway, entitled Ebb and Floe.

The minutes ticked by but Victor held his tongue. He knew further pleading would make him sound weak. The fact that Yakov had not flat out refused yet was encouraging. Holding his breath, he waited for the older man to work through the problem.

“Alright, Vitya - one season. You can have one season off from traveling. That way, if you change your mind you can come back easily.”

Victor felt a weight lift off his shoulders. It was the first step. He understood compromise and was grateful for even this breath of fresh air. He would be free, even if only for a time.

“Thank you, Yakov. I promise if I do come back I will be happier, and work harder than ever before.” Victor crossed to hug the older man, gripping him tightly despite mumbled protests. When they separated Yakov continued.

“Of course, you know what this means, don’t you Vitya?”

“We should go get lunch to celebrate?”

“Nyet. It means you must do what all other models who are looking to leave the company do.”

Victor laughed. It felt good to laugh. He had not felt so light in a long time; having to say no to Yakov had been on his mind for a while now and the stress of it had been making him sick. Suddenly his appetite had returned in full and he was eager to eat with a clear conscious.

“Very funny Yakov. Now, where do you want to go? I heard there was a new steakhouse down the street, but I know you like Maxim’s best. Where would you like me to treat us to?”

Yakov did not answer, he simply reached down into a filing cabinet under his desk and pulled out a thick contract, dropping it heavily in front of Victor’s shocked face with a ‘thud’.

“I’m sorry Vitya, but you aren’t so special you can get out of doing this.”

“Ok, you had your fun Yakov. Hosting a reality show is for unknowns and people who can’t make the cut. Surely you must be kidding. Besides, you said I could take a break! Spend time with Makkachin. Remember? Yakov?”

Victor knew he was fast approaching whiny but he had to plead for his life. Yakov was either dead serious about Victor being next season’s host of Ebb and Floe, or he was pulling an elaborate prank to scare Victor into changing his mind. Yakov did not pull pranks.

“Here is a pen, Vitya. I know all your dietary restrictions and how you like your trailer, but you have to let me know anything else you will need for a full day of shooting. This is good for you. All the shooting is in the same city, July through October, three days a week. Monday you introduce the new challenge, Wednesday is check-in and giving the designers advice, and Saturday is the judging. The show airs on Tuesdays. If you can find a way to keep Makkachin well behaved and out of the way you can bring her to the set with you. You can spend the day joking around with Christophe. It will hardly feel like work.”

Victor was still staring down at the contract in disbelief. Yakov sighed.

“The show needs this. The ratings have been dropping lately because the recent hosts don’t know what they are talking about, and it shows. We need someone who is trusted and well-known to bring in new viewers and lend more credibility to things. I did not plan for it to be you, but I will take the opportunity. It would break Lillia’s heart if the show had to stop. You know she loves it.”

It was true. The show was Lilia Baranovskaya’s brainchild. She was an ex-supermodel and had wanted to bring fashion accessibility to the masses. Ebb and Floe educated people about design and provided opportunities not just for its contestants, but also for people who wanted to work in film, modeling, design, and advertising. Unlike Project Runway which was a joke that exploited fledgling designers for cheap thrills by putting them under ridiculous time and material constraints, Ebb and Floe supported the designers in using their full arsenal of creative ability and education to create beautiful and unique work each week. Victor admired the program and would even occasionally watch it himself on his few nights off. That did not mean he had any interest in being the celebrity host and mentor for a season. However, he could not say no to the two people who had been his whole life.

“Where do I sign?”

 

Floe Cover

 

June 2017

Yuuri and Phichit’s condo, Los Angeles, California

“Why are they complimenting her!! That skirt is completely skanky and it’s two shades off from the color it should be. And why has nobody pointed out that it is entirely the wrong shape for that model's body? The dress should follow the body of a woman, not the body following the shape of the dress. Duh.”

Phichit had to take a break from carefully pouring the chocolate drizzle over their popcorn to laugh. The finale of Ebb and Floe, their favorite fashion design reality show, had been on for fifteen minutes and Yuuri was already quoting Givenchy. It was going to be a good night. Phichit would be happy to wax poetic about the long list of reasons all designers should watch the show for its educational moments, but the real reason he looked forward to watching it each week was for the wonderfully snarky commentary provided by his best friend and partner in pointing out fashion crimes, Yuuri Katsuki.

They were both fashion designers, and for years they had kept running into each other at various fashion events across Asia and became instant friends. When Yuuri got an offer from Celestino Caldini to come work in California, he had called Phichit in a panic. Together they had pooled their resources and moved to Los Angeles. Celestino paid Yuuri well to make boring looks for his men's business wear catalog, and Phichit ran their store at Hollywood&Highland that catered to the nightlife and beach styles the city was known for. Their storefront was named Asian Inspired, an in-joke based on the reviews they had read on their work from Americans over and over. Of course, their work was Asian inspired - they were Asians, from Asia. The store and label were co-owned and co-designed, but Phichit ran the customer end of the business while Yuuri was happy to quietly check the accounting and maintain the website without much credit. Together they made a great team and were taking club and beach fashion by storm.

Asian inspired was just a way to pay the bills though. It certainly wasn’t their biggest dream. Phichit wanted to bring Thai patterns and styles to the forefront of international fashion. He wanted people to understand why his people traditionally dressed as they did and appreciate it without appropriating it.

Yuuri’s dreams were more specific. Probably too specific. They involved a certain silver-haired model from Russia and a secret longing that was not as much of a secret as Yuuri seemed to think it was.

Phichit finished drizzling the milk, dark, and white chocolate over the caramel popcorn, hoping the decadent treat would help them get through this rough night. He stole a few pieces as he rounded the corner from the kitchen into the living room of their condo because he had a feeling once the bowl got into Yuuri’s hands it would be a lost cause. The tv was on mute during the commercial break and Yuuri was sprawled upside down on the couch, legs haphazardly stretched across the top and his head hanging down near the floor. His phone was held above him and the endless scrolling through Tumblr had commenced. Yuuri stopped and flashed a particularly funny meme of the dress he had just been critiquing stretched across a variety of different shaped objects up to at Phichit. They laughed together and Yuuri kept scrolling as Phichit set the bowl down, arranged the blankets the way he liked them, and finally sat down.

No sooner had his rear end hit the couch than Yuuri quickly righted himself in one fluid movement, staring at his phone like it held the most beautiful image in the whole universe. Phichit peeked over his shoulder to see Victor Nikiforov pouting and smoldering at the camera, a one hundred and forty thousand dollar diamond and oyster paved Rolex watch on his wrist. A few minutes later and Yuuri was holding a poster-sized version of the image printed out from their photo printer. The show was still playing in the background, forgotten for this far more important piece of entertainment.

“I don’t understand, Phichit! Why do they only dress him in silver and grey? I mean they went wild here and used charcoal. So different. Iconic. Would it kill them to put him in mauve just once? Or crimson? Or sapphire!”

“You would probably combust if he wore crimson, Yuuri.”

Yuuri nodded sagely. “It would be a good way to die.”

While Phichit laughed some more Yuuri disappeared, probably to go hang his new poster on his “inspiration wall”, which was just code for a stalker shrine dedicated to Victor. The inspiration wall at their shared design room behind the storefront was at least a healthy mix of models and designers and actual clothing, but Yuuri had long ago given up on pretending to care about having anyone other than Victor Nikiforov in his bedroom.

When he returned a few minutes later they resumed watching the show. They traded the usual banter back and forth, debating winners and looks. They held their emotions in check nearly through to the end. One casual comment made by Yuuri finally broke the facade of normality.

“Remember Phichit, when Lilia is judging you next season please act serious. I know you have a lot of fun, but she doesn’t appreciate it when contestants act like their effort does not matter. Take her compliments with a smile and a nod - don’t laugh them off.”

It took Phichit several seconds to catch up with Yuuri’s words. His best friend was giving him advice for being on their favorite show. Phichit was going to be on their favorite show. Lilia and the other judges were going to be critiquing and encouraging his work on national television. He would be one step closer to his dreams coming true.

He was going to be a contestant on the next season of Ebb and Floe, just like he and Yuuri had always talked about.

But they had always talked about being on the show together.

He was going to be on the show alone. Without Yuuri. Without his best friend. How could something be the greatest thing ever and still suck so much? Phichit launched himself across the couch to cling onto his friend. He felt like he wanted to cry, but didn’t want to make Yuuri cry too.

“I’m so sorry, Yuuri. I didn’t realize they filmed the interviews directly after the auditions. If I had known I wouldn’t have scheduled our auditions back to back. I thought it would be good for me to go first and see what it was like, and then I could come out and tell you and walk you to the door and wish you good luck. I had no idea I wouldn’t see you again. If they had just let me talk to you everything would have been alright.”

He could feel Yuuri shake his head, and the light press of his cheek against his hair. As Yuuri spoke the sound rumbled through his chest.

“There were no surprises you could have told me about, Phichit. We have watched the audition process for four years now. What makes you think I didn’t know what was going to happen? I had been working myself into an internal frenzy for days. Nothing you could have said would have magically calmed me down and made me able to go into that room to speak to the judges coherently. You did perfectly and I am very proud of you. You are going to be amazing and I cannot wait to see what you make.”

“It won’t be the same without you, Yuuri.”

“I know Phichit, I’m sorry too. I wish I wasn’t such a mess and had been able to pass my audition so we could be on the show together.”

It was more than that, but Phichit didn’t want to keep pressing the issue. Phichit had wanted them both to be in the show so that he could be there to see Yuuri’s face and hug him and dance around when Yuuri won. Phichit was fairly certain that he wasn’t going to make it to the end, but he had no doubt Yuuri would have wowed the judges and the world and taken the grand prize. The fact that Yuuri’s education and letters of praise from his teachers at Bunka were being wasted at Celestino’s on boring businesswear ate away at Phichit and he wanted more for Yuuri, even if Yuuri didn’t seem to want it for himself. Speaking of which…

“I still think you should quit working for Celestino - the fact that he threatened to fire you if you got on the show is manipulative and rude and you know it.”

“Please Phichit, don’t start on that. I’m lucky I have such a good job there. I probably couldn’t handle much more pressure than that anyway. Between the menswear and the shop, I’m happy. I promise.”

Phichit backed off again, and they just sat cuddled up for a minute. On the TV the winner was getting hugs from their friends and family and being presented with a check for one hundred thousand dollars. During the commercial, Yuuri spoke.

“You can still use me as one of your three contacts, right? I expect panicked three am phone calls from you every night.”

“Absolutely. You have to check all my color palettes because you know I get out of control. I expect you to keep me from getting too exotic and crazy.”

“No gingerbread lingerie?”

Phichit laughed and lifted himself off the couch, collecting the various chip bags and bowls and taking them back to the kitchen. When he returned Yuuri had taken up his favorite upside-down position all over the couch again. The celebrity host for this season was telling everyone to listen closely for an exciting announcement regarding the new judges for the next season.

Her name was Mila Babicheva and like most hosts, she was a model for Floe looking to expand her range into television. She had been fun and spunky and Phichit almost wished she could have been the host for his season as well. Sometimes the host was some old bitter ex-model who disliked everything and clearly did not want to be there. Sometimes it was someone clueless about clothing who hadn’t been able to quite cut it as a model but still had a contract to fulfill. Mila had been a good mix of knowledgeable and friendly. Phichit grabbed the remote and turned the volume up to hear the announcement. This was news that no one had heard yet.

“Hello everyone, and welcome back to Ebb and Floe, where we track the incoming and outgoing tides of fashion. I’m your host Mila Babicheva and I’m here to let you know who will be on the judging panel for our next season.

As always we have the radiant woman who founded Floe and all it stands for, Lilia Baranovskya. She has been in the industry for over four decades and loves educating people about fashion and spreading its influence.

Next up we have the mysterious and stoic Otabek Altin. Otabek is a new designer from Kazakhstan who shot into high fashion two years ago with his edgy leather pieces and contrasting boyfriend material line. We are very excited to welcome him to Floe and look forward to his interesting perspective.

Your third judge will be someone you know very well if you have paid close attention this season. She was a model at Floe for six years and has recently become more interested in nurturing young designers. That's right, it’s me! I’m joining the team as a permanent judge and I could not be more excited.”

Phichit whooped and jumped into the air. Mila would be one of those sweet supportive judges and he had a feeling they would end up being friends at the end of the season. Lilia was pretty consistent with her likes and dislikes, so she should be easy to please. Altin however…

“That Altin is a dark horse. We have no idea what to expect from him or what he’s like. You might want to do some research in the next few weeks, Phichit. I’ll see if I can find some info on him and send it your way.”

Yuuri spoke from his upside-down spot, shooting Phichit a grin. Mila continued her announcements.

“Last but not least, let’s not forget our new guest host for season nine! There is no way you could have gone for the last twenty years without seeing his face on every magazine and television commercial. He’s both devilish and charming, breaks gender barriers daily while still winning the Hottest Man of the Year award four times over his career, and is renown for his unique natural silver hair. It’s none other than Floe’s very own international modeling prodigy, Victor Nikiforov!

That was when Yuuri fell off the couch. Phichit probed his friend’s head for injuries and checked his eyes for a concussion while Yuuri stared into space and repeated the words ‘what’ and ‘how’ over and over. Mila wasn’t done dropping bombshells though.

“We’ve had lots of fun filming here in New York for eight seasons, but it’s time to follow the summer sun and what better place to find sun and new inspiration than beautiful Los Angeles, California! Season nine will be full of new locations, challenges, and contestants, so make sure to mark your calendars for July eleventh, seven pm pacific time! See you there!”

The credits began to roll and Phichit reached up to grab the remote off the couch and turn the tv off. The room was silent except for the sound of Yuuri’s shallow panicked breaths.

“He’s going to be here Phichit. Victor is going to be here. Phichit, you get to meet Victor. You get to design for Victor! He’s going to be here!”

“Calm down, Yuuri. I promise if you get to come to the set you can meet him.”

“NOOOO! I can’t! I don’t have the right clothes. I never made them. I don’t even know what to make. Oh god, I would have had to design for Victor if I got on the show. That would have been a disaster. There was a reason I couldn’t go to that audition. I must have known. I must have somehow known and my body was just keeping me from embarrassing myself for an entire season in front of him. It’s a good thing, Phichit. It’s good, right? It’s better this way? Tell me it’s better this way, that if I never meet him then I can’t embarrass myself.”

Phichit pulled Yuuri off the floor and began leading him to the bathroom.

“Don’t worry about it Yuuri, you don’t have to meet him if you don’t want to. No one will force you to. Just brush your teeth and go to bed. We have a lot of planning to do in the morning.”

Yuuri turned to him and gave him one last look full of puppy dog eyes and sadness.

“It’s a good thing, right Phichit?”

His friend looked so lost and confused. It must be awful to be so afraid all the time, to doubt everything you should look forward to.

“Yea, Yuuri, I guess it is.”

With a final disoriented nod, Yuuri closed the door of the bathroom, and Phichit went to bed to imagine what the next four months of his life would be like.

 

June 30th, 2107

FIDM, Los Angeles, California

Several weeks later Yuuri stood awkwardly on the outside of the circle of partygoers surrounding Phichit. The party they were at was a celebration of the beginning of filming season nine, held at the campus of the fashion design school Floe would be kidnapping to film at for the next few months. It was low key; just the filming crew, a buffet table, and loud music. Yuuri and Phichit had been invited because they lived nearby, and of course, Phichit was already friends with half the crew on Instagram. All of the other contestants were still in their home states and countries, waiting for the closet tours to be filmed before they flew out to California. Phichit was telling stories about the dumb tourists who wandered into their shop looking for the Hollywood sign. His friend was blossoming under the attention he was getting, and drawing laughs from the crowd effortlessly. Maybe it was because he hadn’t drowned himself in champagne they way Yuuri had.

The only reason Phichit had been able to convince Yuuri to come tonight was with the assurance no one of importance would be here. They had double-checked Victor’s Instagram to see pictures of him from that day still tagged in New York, so Yuuri allowed Phichit to tell him what to wear and resigned himself to a night of vapid socialization and hoping not to seem too boring. With every glass of champagne, the thought that he could have been here celebrating their approaching season instead of just his friends was a little less painful. Yuuri grabbed one more glass and hoped that this would be the glass that changed his philosophy from ‘I hate this why am I here’ to ‘This is fun we should dance’. If this one didn’t do it, maybe the next glass would.

 

Victor ducked into the hallway behind the bathrooms and prayed that no one had seen him. As usual, Christophe had been right. Victor should not have come to this party. Anytime he approached a group of people they would giggle and ask for his autograph and praise his work, then wander away. No one wanted to hold an actual conversation with him. He was just a celebrity, not a person in their eyes.

Maybe he should just go home.

Victor stepped out of the dark to leave and collided with someone exiting the restroom. Automatically Victor grabbed on to the person to steady them from falling. The figure in his arms was slightly shorter than him, and looking down Victor could only see dark gelled hair. Then the person tilted their head back to look up at him and Victor was entranced by wide sparkling brown eyes and soft flushed skin. The man he was holding was very handsome, and possibly very drunk. Was he one of the models this season?

Victor smiled at him and if possible those eyes got even bigger, looking shocked and amazed. His mouth opened to speak and Victor expected a ‘Wow, are you Victor Nikiforov?’ or ‘Can I have your autograph?’. Instead, he heard something entirely different.

“You’re not suuupposed to be here!”

Technically Victor hadn’t been invited to this party, but the invitation did say it was open to all cast and crew. Nothing had said Victor couldn’t go. Perhaps this was just another person who, like Christophe, knew that celebrities and normal people did not mingle well. The man continued yelling at him.

“You’re supposed to be in New York! I was specifically told you wouldn't be here, so you shouldn’t be.”

There was now a finger poking into Victor’s chest. This man seemed especially annoyed at Victor, but Victor couldn’t understand why.

“I’m sorry. Why shouldn’t I be here?”

“Because I’m not dressed right! This isn’t sposed to be what you see me wearing.”

Victor looked down at the man’s outfit. The top was very stylish, made of something clingy and nearly sheer, and the pants molded to him like a second skin. He was in good shape, and the clothing showed that off.

“I think your outfit looks wonderful. The cut of the shirt accentuates your collar bones, which are an often neglected feature on male models, and the color brings out your eyes. Is that blue independence?”

The man in front of him nodded. “Phichit likes to dress me in this color. He says it looks good and speaks for my perssoonality, so I let him.”

“Did Phichit make this outfit for you?”

The man nodded again, but still looked unhappy. Victor tried to reassure him.

“I think it is a great outfit for a first meeting. You wear it very well. You will get far as a model.”

That seemed to confuse the man, and his eyebrows drew together and turned downward at an angle that should be illegal it was so attractive. The finger that had been poking Victor’s chest relaxed, but the hand stayed where it was. Victor wanted to hold it close to him.

“That’s not right. You are the model, Victor.”

“Yes. I am.”

“I’m not a model."

“You could be.”

Apparently, that was hilarious because the man doubled over laughing, swaying and nearly falling. Victor continued to hold on to him and was grateful for the opportunity. When the man finally stood up again he was wiping tears from his eyes.

“I’m sorry, I just, this is not how I thought this conversation would go.”

“You’ve imagined meeting me?”

“Lotsa times. Too many to count. I never decided what to wear though...”

Someone walked into the bathroom and gave them a strange look. Maybe it would be best to find a place to sit. There had been a courtyard in the back, so Victor steered his unsteady charge over to a stone bench and sat him down. When they were settled he continued the conversation, wanting to find out more about this handsome man who was tragically not a model.

“So, you aren’t a model, but you have someone designing clothes specifically for you?”

“Yep. My best friend, Phischit. He is a designer. He’s going to be on the show!”

“I see. If you had known what to wear to meet me, would you have asked him to design it?”

“What? No. I would have just made it. Asking him to do it for me would be silly.”

“So you are a designer, too?”

“Yes!”

“So you and your friend will both be on the show this season? That is wonderful!”

Victor could not have been happier. He was going to spend an entire four months getting to know this beautiful man. He was going to get to see him every day. He might make a friend. Maybe more...He looked over at his companion and once again the man looked sad and frustrated. Why did his moods swing back and forth so much?

“What is wrong now?”

“I have to find another glass of champagne, but I don’t really want to stop talking to you.”

“Why?”

“I promised myself that every time I had to tell someone that I didn’t pass the audition, I would take a drink. I made a game out of it.”

“How many glasses have you had?”

“Prbably too many.”

This time the man smiled at him devilishly and Victor thought his heart might leap out of his chest for how fast it started to beat. Victor smiled back and he felt something click into place between them, and he didn’t feel like just a celebrity meeting a fan anymore.

“What is your name?”

“Yuuri Katsuki.”

“Hello Yuuri, I’m Victor Nikiforov.”

Victor held out his hand and Yuuri took it. While they shook hands, Yuuri looked Victor up and down as if he was taking in the whole of him instead of just the face that everyone associated him with. When Yuuri finished his appraisal he frowned, rolled his eyes, and groaned.

“Black and grey. Of course. Figures.”

Victor looked down at himself and wondered what was wrong. He was wearing a monochrome geometric patterned sweater that had been handed to him by Yves Saint Laurent himself after last year's runway. It was a bit warm for the Los Angeles weather, but it was the most normal thing he owned and he hadn’t wanted to stick out too much tonight.

“You don’t like this sweater?”

“No, it’s not that. Saint Laurent is great. It’s just that I never get to see you wear color anymore. I bet you don’t even own anything in color, and it would look sooooo good on you. Here, look.”

Yuuri pulled his cell phone out of his pocket, tapped on it a few times, and then handed it to Victor. On the screen was a sketch of a model wearing what looked like a prince’s military jacket in shades of red-violet and rose with gold trim. Somehow the design managed not to look like a Disney costume. Perhaps it was the plum-colored gloves and pants, or the graceful way it was draped over the model's body.

The model who had striking silver hair and bright blue eyes.

“Yuuri! Is this me?”

Yuuri made a soft noise of agreement, still looking down at the phone and swiping to the next image. It was sketched Victor in a velvet dinner jacket in Mardi Gras purple, with bright gold trim, and a black and gold vest underneath. One more swipe revealed sketch Victor again, this time with long hair, in a wine-colored silk dress shirt and almost black-blue ripped jeans. He had to admit, he had never looked better.

Then his eye flicked to the corner of the screen. It read [Image 34 of 112 - purples].

“Yuuri, you drew all of these? How many are there?”

“Looooots. Most of them I sketched in my free time at school, but some are more recent. Not all of them are good, but I keep them anyway. Sometimes I look through the old ones and make changes with the new things I learned at Bunka and update the styles. Like I used to draw you with really broad shoulders because that’s what you looked like to me. Then I figured out that it was your clothing that gave you that shape, so I made sure that your jackets were always narrowed through the waist and hips accorrdinlingly. It annoys me when I see you wear something that hasn’t been tailored to you.”

Yuuri continued to talk about the choices he had made, growing more animated and passionate about the subject, occasionally taking the phone back to look for a new sketch and then shoving it back into Victor’s hands as if to prove a point. The terms he used grew more technical and intricate until cuts and fabrics and colors were mixing in Victor’s head because he could hardly focus on the words he was so entranced by the man speaking them. Yuuri had the technical knowledge and skill to be on the show. Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo is one of the top five design schools in the world and doesn’t accept or graduate just anyone. So why hadn’t Yuuri been cast as a contestant?

Victor stood and walked over to the ranting man, putting a hand on his shoulder to calm him down and handing his phone back to him. He had to know what had happened.

“Yuuri, how come you didn’t pas…”

He was interrupted by Yuuri shouting out that he loved this song, and was pulled in by strong arms until he was held tight. Their legs slotted together and Yuuri’s arms went up around his neck, which forced Victor to hold onto his waist to keep him steady again as he was swaying back and forth to a rhythm that Victor could hardly hear coming from inside. Yuuri moved to the beat by rubbing against Victor in ways that he could hardly handle, and Victor was glad that only one of them was under the influence because otherwise, this night might have ended very differently. They danced together for what seemed like an endless amount of time since they could not distinguish when one song ended and another began. There was just the steady backbeat vibrating through the courtyard and Yuuri’s music that seemed to come from inside of him, occasionally bursting out in hums and scattered words while they spun and slid across the courtyard. It probably looked ridiculous to an outsider, but Victor would not have stopped it for the world.

Eventually, Yuuri seemed to decide there was a slow song playing and practically melted against Victor, his weight going lax and his arms holding on ever tighter to compensate. They danced like that for a minute, barely shifting from one foot to the other, when Victor decided to try asking his question again.

“Yuuri, why didn’t you get onto the show?”

There was a big sigh, after which Yuuri tucked his face into the crook of Victor’s neck like he was hiding. Victor felt warm breath cross his skin and got his answer.

“Because I suck”

“Nonsense. Your designs are wonderful, Yuuri.”

“Not at that, at this.”

“Dancing?”

“No - Existing. Breathing. Talking. Can’t answer questions when you can’t breathe.”

Victor wanted to kiss him gently and tell him that he was perfect and amazing and astounding. He was seriously contemplating how to say such a thing without sounding creepy when he felt a warm hand cupping the side of his face. He looked down at Yuuri to find the man looking up at him wistfully, his thumb brushing over Victor’s cheek. His eyes sparkled and Victor would have given him anything he asked for right then.

“I would have made you so beautiful. I wish you could have been my model. Be my model, Victor?”

Yuuri had been right. It was impossible to answer questions when you couldn’t breathe.

Luckily, Yuuri didn’t expect an answer. He just tucked himself back into Victor’s neck and continued to hold onto him until his weight grew heavy and his breathing turned even.

 

 

The next day Yuuri jerked awake to the sound of his cell phone ringing. He answered it automatically, swallowing though a dry mouth and throbbing head to croak out a greeting. There was a water bottle and aspirin next to his bedside because Phichit was the best person in the whole wide world, so Yuuri tried to balance the phone on his shoulder while he opened the water bottle.

“Hello, is this Yuuri Katsuki?”

Yuuri made some sort of noise that was probably taken as an affirmation since the person kept speaking.

“Ok, good. This is Cristophe Giacometti, the director of Ebb and Floe. I wanted to talk to you about when we can schedule your closet tour”

Yuuri nearly spat out the water he was drinking.

“I’m sorry, you must have the wrong person. I think you want Phichit, he’s my roommate. He’s your contestant, not me.”

I have here on my to-do list ‘call Yuuri Katsuki, contestant number thirteen for closet tour’. My to-do list is never wrong.”

“There are twelve contestants. That doesn’t make any sense.”

“There were twelve contestants. The powers that be decided there should be one more, and they decided it should be you.”

“I’m very sure it is you. Believe me. I'm sorry you didn’t get a proper call. Consider this your formal welcome to Ebb and Floe. Congratulations. Now, I see here that you live at the same address as contestant eight, Phichit Chulanont. I was concerned about trying to squeeze you into the filming schedule, but if I could just film both your tours and the shop on the same day, it would save us a lot of time and money. We will need to show up at your address at six in the morning to fit it all in, so make sure to set an alarm. Have five outfits ready to show us, no explicit material or brand names showing, and prepare for a long day of filming by getting plenty of sleep and water the night before. I’ll bring your contract over so you can sign it then. Any questions?

Screams were echoing through his brain. Yuuri was on autopilot though so he answered in the way that made the least amount of trouble for the other person.

“Ummm...No?”

“Great. See you then. Good luck!”

Yuuri stared down at his phone for a few minutes, then numbly walked down the hall to lightly knock on Phichit’s door. There was pop music playing and Phichit was wearing his cleaning shorts and tank, with a scrubbing brush in one hand.

“Yuuri! You’re awake! Are you ok? You look kinda dead still.”

Yuuri walked slowly to Phichit’s bed and sat down, still staring blankly ahead in disbelief.

“I just got a call. It was the director of Ebb and Floe. He said I’m a contestant, they added me on, and they need to film our closet tours at the same time and good luck and I’m honestly so confused right now…”

Phichit looked just as shocked and surprised as Yuuri did, then Yuuri was tackled onto the bed with a best friend on top of him.

“OMG Yuuri you did it!!! I don’t know how you did it but you did! You drunk-charmed your way onto the show and I love you because now we can do this together! It’s going to be perfect!”

“I DID WHAT!”

“Well, you were drinking at the party, like a lot, and I let you because you are always more fun when you drink, and it worked because you started challenging people to dance-off’s, saying that if you won then they had to let you on the show. You won them all, because, ya know, it’s you, so someone must have followed through! Brilliant. Perfect. Historic. I’m sooooo happy right now.”

“What else happened last night that I don’t remember?”

“Not much - you must have passed out in the bathroom right after that because I didn’t see you again until the end of the party and you definitely looked like you had been sleeping. Oh! Victor showed up near the end! You slept right through it! He was barely there for a minute, signed some autographs, then left. I figured you wouldn't want me to introduce you to him while you were drunk and drooling in a corner so I didn’t bother.”

Yuuri nearly choked on his tongue. Seeing Victor while wearing a sheer shirt that wasn’t even his design, while drunkenly dancing, would have topped his list of most embarrassing things that could have possibly ever happened to him. Now at least he had time to prepare to see him on his terms. Because he would have to see him now. For four months of filming high-stress challenges and make or break opportunities.

At least he would have Phichit by his side. Speaking of which…

“When is your closet tour scheduled for? Christophe said he was going to do your room, mine, and the shop all in the same day.”

“They are adding the shop in! They said they couldn’t do it since I wasn’t the sole proprietor! This is excellent. And bad. Very bad. My shooting day is Monday. This Monday. As in two days from now. That’s why I was cleaning. We have to clean the shop out. It has to be perfect and we have to burn all your sweatpants, and the design room is a disaster area because we never finished the denim looks we were working on. Oh! Yuuri - you might want to take down your ‘inspiration wall’ unless you want everyone that watches the show to know exactly how much you love Victor because that is probably…”

Yuuri produced a high pitched inhuman noise and ran out, leaving Phichit rolling on the bed cackling while he listened to the sound of posters being ripped down. It was going to be a long weekend.